Try This Indie About Social Media Horrors This Halloween

Shorter indie games have become one of my recent favorites, and with Halloween on the horizon I was on the lookout for different horror games I hadn’t played before beyond the classic titles that go around every year. I fell on it #influence, a “slow-burn horror story in kinetic novel format,” in September — and I was immediately sold. I always find myself enjoying games that incorporate social media in some way, whether that’s making it an interactive gameplay element or using the game’s story to dig a bit into our own relationship with social media. And the added bonus of horror elements certainly doesn’t hurt!

The game offers a mix of those two things through the lens of the story of upcoming influencer Dolly Pearson as she tries to make it big on Instapix, the game’s social media site. Not that things are about to take a very unexpected turn in her influencer journey, which has her wondering what she would do to succeed.

With approximately 30 minutes of gameplay in total, #influence delivers a linear experience that slowly draws you in with a brilliant character and game design while instilling an overwhelming sense of unease as you progress through the story, making it a spooky title perfect for pre-game play. Halloween.

It all starts out normal, until it doesn’t anymore

Starting off with a follower count of 5,000, Dolly quickly manages to befriend Vanessa John, a well-known Instapix user who has over 800,000 followers. Things go relatively normal for a while: Dolly and Vanessa become friends, discuss their online profiles, and finally Dolly asks Vanessa for help.

This is where the mysterious character known as Mr. A. comes in. Mr. A. is Vanessa’s agent, by whom she swears, and she puts Dolly and him in touch. He goes on to provide Dolly with different tasks to do which he assures her will help her gain followers.

Now the first task he gives her is to get a haircut. It’s nothing too wild – people are sharing their new haircuts online all the time. And Dolly sees a jump in subscriber numbers afterwards, so there’s nothing suspicious about that, is there?

Bad.

If the suspenseful music played during each of Dolly’s interactions with MA isn’t enough, Dolly’s own questioning of her methods each time they speak is an indicator all on its own.

But what I really enjoyed while playing #influence was the fact that while Dolly questioned the things she was asked to do, she did them anyway. It reminded me of a lot of the characters we see in horror movies doing something that you 100% know they shouldn’t be doing. Each task only got worse, and you really see Dolly getting exhausted as the game progresses. Initially, MA only asks her to cut her hair, but from there things quickly escalate into self-inflicted body mutilation territory.

A kinetic novel that aims to destabilize

During the game in #influence is quite simple (a kinetic novel follows a linear story and offers players no choice), this simple gameplay doesn’t seem to take away from the game in any way. Often in visual novels, it can be easy to get caught up in the decision-making process to make sure you get the ending you prefer. But with #influence only featuring one ending, I found it even easier to get caught up in the story and the outcome of the urban horror as it happened.

The inability to make choices may not be preferable in all visual novels, but it definitely works in favor of #influence‘s peculiar story – especially as it is shorter

And on the short playtime note, that’s another element of the game that works extremely well. The game’s story and horror unfolds slowly, but is well paced and mostly unfolds through Dolly’s DMs with Vanessa and MA especially when you remember her interacting with MA, a literal faceless profile.

Two young women, one with short brown hair and wearing a pink dress and the other with long blonde hair wearing pants and a button-up shirt, are smiling while standing together.  A social media post with their selfie takes up the right side of the image.

I really enjoyed the slow spiral of following Dolly through progressively questionable and scary moments that reached a very satisfying climax by the end of the game. This is a short, engaging game that’s perfect for players who are looking for a small dose of horror that doesn’t involve a huge time commitment or the need to be on the lookout for jump scares around every corner.

I recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a new off-the-beaten-path horror game this Halloween, or if you’re a fan of visual novels. It’s a great indie gem that packs a unique story into gruesome packaging.

The #influence The game is available for free on Itch.io or “name your own price”.

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